All This Thinking is Counter-Productive

Yesterday’s work day was simultaneously one of the best and worst work days ever. Our network was completely down (and remains largely down today), giving me a very limited subset of tasks I could work on. Simple tasks that I blew through in just a few minutes. So I basically goofed off on the web all day.

I feel guilty about that in the sense that I know I’m not getting paid to just goof off. But I also feel guilty about it in some other, more profound way. That I don’t give a sh*t that that’s how I spent my day.

After months of un- and under-employment in 2010 and 2011, I finally landed this job. And I was, and continue to be, grateful for that. Even more grateful for the fact that I was more than 6 months pregnant when I started here. And that my workplace is so accommodating and understanding of the new rhythm of my life. Like needing some time to adjust to the schedule of getting to work with pants on. I have a lot to be thankful for: I have an amazing boss. I make a decent living. I have benefits. But I don’t love my job. I don’t love the line of work I’m in. It just doesn’t excite me or inspire me. If it’s too much to ask to do work that you’re really designed to do, that you are enthusiastic about, that provides the work environment and work style you desire, and at which you are driven to excel, then honestly? I’d rather just be home with my baby.

Having nothing to do but idle time to pass away in my cubicle yesterday was not a good thing because it sent me down a path of re-examining my career and life path yet again. I sat there in my cubicle thinking. And while thinking may be dangerous, it’s all I could do. Well, I mean, besides watch youtube videos of dogs.  Or babies. Or dogs and babies.

The result of all that thinking was a deafening cry inside my head: I want to be productive. I want to work hard. But I want to work for myself. If nothing else, if I worked for myself, woke up one morning, and the network was completely down? I wouldn’t sit there and stare at a blank screen all day like an automaton. I’d go out and live life. Read, nap, go for a hike, take a scenic drive. The possibilities are endless. Bonus: a little break would have reinvigorated me for when it was time to work again.

Coincidentally, I happened to read a blog post last night by someone who talked about losing his job suddenly and needing new work ASAP, who wrote “All I need is to be working with smart passionate people, flexible hours and the ability to work from anywhere. A cubicle is my death. I’ll take it if it’s all I can find, but I’d prefer to work from home and fly anywhere for meetings/face to face time.” Well said, my friend. I work in a cubicle, though that, in and of itself is not the problem. The last museum I worked for, I worked in a cubicle and worked with some of the most talented, funny, amazing coworkers friends ever. If we could have run away to found our own creative firm offering our services as a web designer, writer, graphics/visual artist, and editor, I totally would have. Except that we would have needed insta-clients, and lots of them, because all of us have piles of bills to pay.

Some of it has to do with the stupidity of playing working by the rules. Whether it’s that I have to show up & sit here in a cube for 8 hours even though none of us can get to a single work file, or that I can’t install Flash because I don’t have Admin user privileges even though I produce Flash videos for my job, or that I can’t listen to music on my computer even though I work at a music museum, whatever the workplace is, it has inane, inexplicably dumb rules. I want to live life by my own terms and work by my own rules. Work when I’m ready to work, rather than staring at a blank screen trying to get motivated because I haven’t yet had my coffee and had to be at work at 8:30 even though I’ve been up with a baby since 3:30. Or that I didn’t get to bed with the baby til 3:30. Cuz everyone knows, if you work from 11-7, your quality of work is just total sh*t compared to the quality of work you produce on no sleep between 8:30-4:30! Write about topics that I’m interested in, rather than digesting & regurgitating the most boring information to a general audience. And produce deliverables that match my expectations of high quality rather than pass off “meh, it’s ok, but at least it’s on time” stuff because of someone else’s constraints.

That could be the biggest thing. There’s nothing more frustrating at work than having to compromise, or even abandon your vision. That’s been one of my frustrations with everywhere that I have worked since grad school: not being in control over the quality of the work products I deliver. In grad school, I was in total control over the quality of my research sources, the level of my analysis, and the craftsmanship of my writing. But working for someone else is a whole different story. It’s awful to have a product “represent” you that you don’t feel is the type or quality of work you do best. Because I have worked only for nonprofits, I’m always on a shoestring budget, but I don’t always know the external constraints. Like when your boss tells you you’ve got a $25,000 budget for an exhibit, and you spend $4,000 only to be hauled into her office and told that you’ve “gone over budget.” How? Because she was working on the assumption that $22,000 of that “budget” was for your own salary. (And you were working on the assumption that budget = money one can spend. Because that’s what the word means). Or how you get “voluntold” at work to produce a professional instructional video in 3 months but you get told by the videographers that they can’t work you into their schedule in that time frame, so the best they can do is hand off some B-roll footage and let you work your own magic. When you’re in control of your own product, you know what’s within your abilities and limits and don’t overextend that by taking on projects and agreeing to ideas that compromise your vision. And you’re clear on the rules of engagement.

Here’s the thing: I feel like I finally deserve to find work that works for me. Until this job, I spent my work life trying to make a career out of museum work, and it’s just not there to be made. Museum work is tireless, thankless, and undervalued. It demands a lot of your time, your efforts, your patience, and your resources, but does not deliver equivalent opportunities for personal and professional growth, upward mobility, and, most importantly, work-life balance. Sure, you can rise through the ranks. Either incrementally and over a long period of time, working your way up in a large institution where you must summon the patience to spend years doing menial work that inexplicably demands a Master’s degree waiting for a vacancy for which you have been groomed over time to materialize. Or you may rise through the ranks at a tiny institution well before you are equipped with the skils, abilities, leadership, and network to tackle the frequently insurmountable problems of a small and increasingly irrelevant institution. I gave both a shot, and neither path worked out for me.

Then, when I was laid off by the last museum, I spent my time scrambling, trying to find any job that fit my existing skill set, hoping things would work out for the best. And the side effects aren’t shabby: a steady job that uses the skills that I learned used in museums – research, writing, editing, teaching, and a little design  – a decent paycheck with benefits, and the best boss I’ve had since 2006.

But I want more. I don’t want to try to squeeze myself into a new career that doesn’t fit me exactly right. All that thinking time yesterday reaffirmed that I’ve got to figure out how to make my next work move be to work for myself.

A Historian to the Core

So I was thinking about getting a baby book to preserve baby’s stuff, and then I realized. No need anymore. All the photos? Digital files. My mom had a baby book for me that had all kinds of photos of me, little memories and dates (like my first smile, first time I crawled). That’s all recorded in digital pics & videos. Things have changed a lot in 35 29 years.

But there still is stuff to preserve, it’s just that it’s three-dimensional stuff. Her baby bracelets from the hospital, her first outfit. So I got an acid-free archival box to safeguard those things against the elements. That’s just how nerdy of a museum-geek historian I am.

What’s Not to Like?

I’m sitting at my new job – this is my second week. And honestly? It’s pretty great! Not just because I’m employed (although that, in itself, is a relief) but the work, the work environment? I’m not sure I have been more content with work in a long, long time.

What’s the deal? Well for starters, this is just the confidence boost I needed. For years now I’ve been bouncing around from job to job, and, as a result, my museum career felt very wobbly or uneven since my employment has been so inconsistent. After years of that, and especially with my layoff last fall, I suffered from a crisis of confidence in my own abilities. A more competent person would still be working at one of the many museum jobs I’ve had. I must not be talented at my chosen field because otherwise, my employers would have found some way to keep me on longer than they did. Why did I get laid off when others didn’t? What did I do wrong? Why am I not good enough? It sucks when you work for employers who may not understand or make full use of your talents and abilities…but when you start to take THEIR opinions about yourself to heart? That’s just sad. I started to believed that the problem was not my employers, but me. When they didn’t see value enough in my work to keep me on board, I began to question my own work products, too.

For years I’ve been ignoring that my confidence in my abilities has been slipping away. I came out of grad school a confident gal. I knew I was smart, capable of doing so many different things, and ready to take on whatever task or project I was given. After the last 10 years, though, I don’t even recognize myself. I don’t have faith anymore that my talents and skills will see me through adversity, and I lack the tenacity to even try. I’ve been trying for so long now to make a go of a museum career and it hasn’t worked out – I’m unemployed despite years of trying to prove myself and my worth as an employee. And the problem became even worse – getting laid off has shown me that I came to equate my self worth with my value as an employee, believing that my employers’ assessment of me (as demonstrated by my sputtering around from one short-term grant-funded project to another instead of getting to work as a permanent employee) must be right.

But this work? Answering phones, greeting clients, and taking charge of general office tasks? That I know I can do. I have no doubts about it. This is the first time in years that I have not found myself second-guessing my abilities and glancing over my shoulder at every second of the workday, leaving exhausted and anxious at the end of every day and dreading the next. Instead, I find myself walking out of here with my head held high – knowing that I did a great job today – and not even giving a second thought to what challenges await me tomorrow. And I know that my employer fully recognizes that I’m doing a great job, too, but that’s not even at the front of my mind, and that’s the biggest change. I fully know that I’m doing a great job so I don’t find myself worrying at every turn what my employer thinks and if they are aware of my worth and contributions. A real shift from the mindset I’ve been in for years, where I’ve been seeing myself as my museum employers have seen me (Apparently expendable).

There’s another thing that’s totally fabulous about this gig, though. Freeing up all that head space that was occupied by constant worry and anxiety about job performance? All that space is now freed up so I can focus on other, MUCH MORE IMPORTANT things. Things like: I AM HAVING A BABY!!

I cannot express how excited I am getting about Baby. Until now, yes, I was excited. But there was a huge wet blanket over that, which was my ever present companion of “I’m never going to find a job. What am I going to do?” I may not have found a long-term solution to that, and I still can’t answer what I want to be when I grow up, but I’m starting to let my anxiety about that slip a bit. I’m just BARELY starting to show…and what this humble job is showing me is that maybe I’ve been going about about this job search all wrong. What if I let go of a possibly unrealistic pursuit of work that I find satisfying and instead focus on finding work that lets me rebuild my workplace mojo? That just might free up the space that I need right now to be able to fully experience the undeniable gratitude I feel for the blessings in my personal life as we prepare to welcome Baby.

By the Numbers

I haven’t had much to blog about lately. Last time I checked in here, I was excited about a couple leads I had. Which led nowhere. No responses, no phone calls, no emails…nothing. And both positions have been filled (or at least have disappeared off the series of tubes). In the meantime, I’ve been trolling the web looking for work, and fired off a few applications but nothing exciting on the horizon. Here’s a look at the jobs hunt thus far, by the numbers:

  • Number of months I have been looking for work: 8
    • I started looking May 1, 2010 – a full 3 ½ months before I would be officially notified I was getting laid off (and 6 months before I was laid off). Luckily, I had started looking because I had already seen the writing on the wall – that I was next in line for a layoff at the museum I worked for  – but I’d also already decided it was time for a change for myself – to work in something other than museums.

In those 8 months…

  • Number of local museum job openings: 2
    • Number applied for: 2
    • Number of interviews: 2 (1 for each opening)
    • Number of offers: 0
    • Both were entry-level, and so I was “not the right fit” for either. One even told me she would kill to have me but that “you would be bored to death.”
  • Number of exhibit writing job openings anywhere: 1
    • Number of interviews: 0
    • Though it was out of state, I figured why not apply since at least it’s in my wheelhouse. Would have crossed any out-of-state bridge in the unlikely event it had come to it
  • Number of copyediting and/or proofreading jobs applied for: 4
    • Number of interviews: 0
  • Number of random other jobs that correlate directly to my experience: 1
    • Number of interviews: 0

That’s pretty much the long and the short of jobs that are remotely parallel to my experience, skills, and abilities, and/or align even a little bit with my qualifications. I’ve switched up my strategy – I’m going to apply for any and all jobs – retail, restaurants, whatever. I’ll just keep at it til I find a paycheck.

Just as Hard as it Sounds

So when I took my job writing exhibits, I knew it was a short-term 18-month gig. But I figured 18 months as a “real” writer was worth it, and by the end of the 18 months, I’d surely be able to land find another writing gig. Boy, am I naive! Today was my last day at the job, and I’m now laid off. I’m sad to leave my friends behind, as I had many awesome coworkers. But I’m glad to be out of that wickety wak environment, and beyond ready to leave the museum world in my rear view. But how to transform myself into a writer, even with all this free time on my hands now, is just as hard as it sounds like it might be. It might shock you to hear, but writing here doesn’t pay, and I’m not sure how to find writing gigs that do. And to be honest, I like writing, so I’m not sure I want to mess up that relationship by getting in bed with it and making it my livelihood.

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker

My museum career string of dead-end jobs is over. It will take me a while to be okay with closing that chapter. After all, I thought it was my dream job for more than 10 years. But I’m ready to do something different. If only I knew what that was. Last time I posted here I was thinking not about possible career paths but about immediate job prospects. A necessary consideration given that I’m typing this in pajamas thanks to my current unemployment. But I also think a lot about my future career – what I want to be when I grow up do next. There are a lot of things I think that I’d like to do. Things I can do. Writing and editing, for instance. Photography and photo editing. Baking. Web design. But what I can get hired to do? That’s another story.

I’ve taken an inventory of my existing skill set: googling, instant messaging, and procrastination. Okay, so I guess my work in museums did develop skills and abilities beyond those, when I think about it. As long as I think really hard, anyway. Research, writing, public speaking, planning, database administration, project management…But identifying those skills is one thing. Figuring out how to get employers to take note of my museum experience is another thing entirely.

Take writing, for instance. Writing (and the accompanying research skill set that enables me pull together the content to write about) has been, by far, the major component of my work for…I don’t even know how long. For the past 6 years continuously, but even my first job out of college was to write, edit, and layout all the museum newsletters, brochures, and marketing materials. My last job title was, well, Writer. But the only time I see jobs in publishing or writing, they are looking for someone with a degree in English or Journalism. I’ve written website copy, brochures, newsletters, social media campaigns, grant applications, press releases…and, oh yeah!, museum exhibits. Over the years, I’ve written tons of different kinds of materials for highly diverse audiences but it feels like I might as well toss those years of experience out the window when it comes to jobs that list degrees I don’t have even when I match all the other qualifications. Sure, I could provide a portfolio, I guess. But mine consists of tight little 100-150 word labels, which is a highly technical skill in and of itself but evidently does little to impress upon the general reader how much work goes into crafting them, nor the research that goes into their content. (You try transforming highly complex scholarly information into an approachable and engaging narrative written for general audiences using 125 or fewer words per label on deadline and let me know how it goes.)  I can’t provide my personal blog (read by my faithful audience that fluctuated between zero and two) as a portfolio of my talents. I’ve said “fuck” and “shitballs” on there, people!

My degrees are in history and anthropology. Useless, really. Okay, fine. I don’t really think my degrees are useless – I think they have served me well in landing short-term employment in jobs that pay poorly and provide no benefits. But they also helped me develop a ton of skills & abilities. Historians rely on a journalist’s skills – the ability to research using a wide variety of sources and critically examine the claims and biases of all sources – and the writing chops of an English major to tell the stories of the past. And I’m really good at all of those things. But since employers don’t see “English” or “Journalism” when they check my resume against their minimum qualifications, I don’t think my resume and cover letter make it past the recycling bin. Especially in this economy when even folks who match the minimum qualifications get weeded out because there’s always someone else with more directly relevant experience.

I feel like I need to stumble upon someone who could serve as my ambassador to potential employers. Someone who understands the skill set I bring to the table. When you work in nonprofits like museums, you wear a lot of hats, which has afforded me the opportunity to code and design websites and put my Adobe Creative Suite skills to use in developing and designing exhibits, catalogues, newsletters, and all other manner of whatnot. But try as I might, I can’t get anyone to notice that my work experience is directly relevant to any publishing or writing job because I lack the specified credentials. If I decided I wanted to go into web design, I could send a portfolio of the websites I’ve done, but since I don’t have a web design certificate or degree, I’d run into the same problem I would with publishing and writing jobs.

Figuring out which experience I even want to take with me to my next career is tough, too. Take database administration, for instance. I did a TON of database work in museums – collections management databases, development (read: fundraising) databases, membership databases – TMS, re:Discovery, Argus, PastPerfect, Access, Crystal Reports, and so many more – but I’m not interested in doing database work. I left collections management to go into exhibit development because I was sick of sitting at a computer staring at databases all day. And, even if I wanted to do database administration, “real” DBAs would take issue with hiring someone whose background/degrees/job titles weren’t in computing.

My work experience feels so unbalanced. On the one hand, I found my M.A. to be simultaneously required for my work in museums and yet totally and completely unnecessary for the tasks that were assigned to me in my museum jobs. On the other hand, I don’t have the degrees needed for the work I’d like to be doing. And I’m still not clear on what that is, anyway. I guess if I could dream up any job that I wanted, it would be to work as a blogger (writing my own blog, not writing SEO crap for some realtor or for about.com). But as far as I know, the only ways to get paid as an individual blogger are to a) write stuff & b) make sure folks are reading it, and last I checked, well, let’s just say I’ve got a long way to go. Hmmm. Maybe I should take a crash course in SEO – ha!

Somehow I lucked into figuring out how one can have both a good amount of work experience directly relevant to jobs I’d like to do and exactly the wrong credentials for the same jobs. I’m not asking to go into a totally new career at a highly advanced level – I’d totally be willing to accept a lower-paying job in publishing or writing just so I could get started as long as there’s a possibility that I’d advance as I brought my skills and abilities to bear on whatever new career I choose.

As I think about all this, though, I also think that I don’t really have the luxury of carefully orchestrating a career transition. Thanks to sudden unemployment, right now what I need most is to find a steady paycheck before this baby gets here. After baby’s here, I’ll worry about what I’d really like to do with my career…It seems likely that more short-term work is in my near future while I try to sort out my long-term career goals.

Calling It Quits

On the heels of our Vegas getaway, I’ve decided to go ahead and call it quits at work. I’ll be pulling the plug today. It just makes more sense to go ahead and end this now, before I get asked to move a baby grand.

While it’s been nice to get a paycheck, I need to shift my time, attention, and energy away from the past and towards the future. My immediate job prospects, my future career path and my future role as a mother, for starters. It’s hard for me to think about my future self as a mother when I am so preoccupied with not being unemployed, so let’s look at the other two.

The future career path is so undetermined, so hard for me to wrap my mind around. A few years ago, I did career counseling. The pathway that my counselor recommended as a best fit for me was to get to a place where I could balance working part-time in something that is more, um, mindless, I guess, for lack of a better word – retail, baking – anything other than sitting at a computer – with writing part-time in order to harness my creativity and direct it towards something that is more personally fulfilling. (With the larger end goal of tipping the scales more towards writing as a long-term career.) That all really resonated with me. And still does – I’d still like to get there eventually as it sounds lovely. But right now, that seems really far off. I just need a paycheck. So on to my immediate job prospects…

While we were in Las Vegas, I spent a ton of time looking online for jobs, by which I mean napping and listening to podcasts. And also looking for work. (They’re really one and the same. Surfing the job listings would get me so discouraged at my prospects that I would shut the laptop and resume lying in the fetal position while listening to This American Life).

There are the jobs I would want but for which I am absolutely not qualified – proven blogger with readership numbers large enough to make it possible for me to work for myself, for example; the jobs I qualify for but don’t want – social media campaign coordinator, anyone? I’d rather shoot myself; and the work that I once enjoyed but which would entail a huge reduction in pay – retail, that would be you.

I decide I shouldn’t even bother applying for the jobs for which I’m absolutely not qualified. A total waste of my time and energy. The ones that I qualify for but don’t want? Well…they would bring in a paycheck, so I probably should at least keep them on the list. And the work I once enjoyed? First I’d have to convince someone that I really do have experience in retail…even if that was 11 years ago…and then I’d have to be able to absorb the decrease in income in order to possibly achieve an increase in satisfaction. I mean, who’s to say I’d still enjoy retail? Or that what I enjoyed about it was something other than the work itself – a more casual work environment, a variable schedule, not having to report to work before 10 a.m…That’s all stuff I’d have to consider…if I could just get an employer to consider me.

It’s so discouraging to apply via some nameless, faceless, generic online portal. Okay, I get it. This is just how jobs get filled these days, and without the web, how the hell else would you find work? And employers need an efficient way to screen out unqualified applicants. But it makes it really difficult for those of us who are trying to switch careers. No matter how many job openings I’ve looked at, I have yet to see a question prompt for: “I did something completely different for more than 10 years but the following applicable skills and experience are directly relevant to this opening (list and explain in detail here).” It’s hard to make my work experience fit in the boxes provided when I’m trying to think outside the box.

With all of that weighing on my mind, I was looking at job ad after job ad, and I just kept seeing language that indicated that positions were to be filled quickly (e.g., “Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled” as opposed to the more traditional “Initial close date is XYZ though applications will continue to be accepted and reviewed until position is filled”), so time is of the essence in closing in on my best near-term job prospects. I’m done standing around at my current dead-end (literally) job. I go home at the end of each day exhausted, only to have to scroll through websites looking for new job postings and pull together an application somewhere between dinner and bed – a very narrow window these days. I’ve decided to quit today so that I can devote 24/7 to finding a job pronto. When I leave today, I will neatly pack my museum work past into an archival, acid-free box, and label with a teeny tiny catalog label (reading “best intentions” or something along those lines), and get my ass home to find my new job. Bonus: my new commute from the bedroom to the living room is going to be epic.

Sickness, Yes. Mornings? No.

It’s such a cliche, but morning sickness is around-the-clock for me. After I wake, I lie there motionless, hoping that if I just don’t move, maybe my stomach won’t sound the alarm yet. I try to eat something to calm my stomach before I have to leave for work, but nothing seems to help. Once I get to work, it takes half my energy to not throw up and the other half to try and act like everything’s normal, to get through my day without seeming too distracted by the morning sickness, the being pregnant, and/or the looming unemployment, take your pick. On top of the morning sickness, I’m beyond exhausted but supposed to report to work an hour earlier than I had to in any of the previous 18 months in my old department, and even though they say caffeine in moderation is okay during pregnancy, coffee and Diet Coke are up there with cigarette smoke on the nausea-inducing richter scale.

I haven’t told anyone at work that I’m pregnant. Why would I? I was laid off as a writer last Friday, and I’m on borrowed time working in the museum’s registration department on a project that’s wrapping up in just a few weeks. Around New Year’s I’m getting laid off (again). For real this time. I report my hours and any time off to my “old” supervisor from the exhibits department, but I never see her or any of my friends from that department, and I no longer have a workspace or a computer. I report to duty in the museum’s collections storage room, where I work with and for folks I don’t know at all. I work different hours, I do different tasks, and I wasn’t about to tell HR I’m pregnant when I’m losing my job (again) in just 6 weeks anyway. Suffice to say it’s more than a little awkward – I don’t want my new, very temporary unofficial supervisor and coworkers to know what my official supervisor and friends don’t yet know.

I also don’t want them to suspect that I’m some sort of slacker whiling away the hours napping in a bathroom stall, though I don’t feel like I owe any of these people any explanation. But the morning sickness is becoming increasingly difficult to conceal at work. Until now, I’d had small, occasional bouts of nausea but now it’s unrelenting. Wave after wave hits me, resulting in a complete inability to keep anything down. And I mean anything – water, Ginger Ale, 7-up, Gatorade, rice, saltines. Sometimes I worry that everyone’s noticing that I’m running to the bathroom every 20 minutes. Then I realize that after I’ve worked here more than 18 months, I’m now reduced to being no more than a guest worker on a very temporary visa, and I could give a sh*t if I get “fired.” I’m losing my job one way or another – what do I care?

Last Friday was scheduled to be my last day at the museum. And, not coincidentally, in museum work. After my boss told me a few months ago that my contract was not going to be renewed, I did a lot of soul searching. I’ve been working in trying to work in museums for more than 10 years. Every career move I have made was with the goal of securing a stable, long-term position in a museum, but no matter how hard I’ve tried to make this career path work for me, it just hasn’t. I stumbled on the notion of working in a museum as a college student, and thought it was my dream job. I thought it would be fun to study artifacts and research the past. I thought that my work would have greater meaning – that I would get to make contributions to a larger body of knowledge. And I thought it would be more creative and therefore, more engaging than your typical 9-5 office drone work.

Once I became enamored with this idea, I got my M.A. in 2001 so that I could work in museums. Mission. Accomplished. And what did it get me? In the 10 years since, I’ve had a grand total of just over 5 years of gainful employment in my field. If this were baseball, I’d be in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, that meant that for 5 of the past 10 years, I spent just as much time stubbornly chasing down a foolhardy vision of a career as I did resenting the short-term positions that I did successfully piece together in my chosen field. I’ve been working at making a career out of a dying career path, one that is over-credentialed and woefully underpaid, all for the sake of fulfilling some childish vision of a “dream job.”

In my experience, it’s called a dream job because it is some romanticized fantasy – a reverie. Now that I’m waking up, I find myself in a daze, having given over more than a decade to something that just wasn’t really there. I have worked in positions that had advertised the need for advanced credentials and specialized skills when the day-to-day responsibilities turned out to be manning the front desk cash register and answering the phone. I took short-term and contract positions with the hope that they would turn into more, but inevitably each would come to an end as funding ran out. All along the way I found myself thinking , “If only I [fill-in-the-blank]” [had a Ph.D., knew more about ancient pre-Columbian textiles, became an expert at HTML5 applications for web-based exhibitions…you get the idea], I would at long last achieve the dream job I’d always hoped for. I finally ended up with a great title ( exhibit writer) and overlooked the minor detail that it was a short-term contract position, foolishly thinking that this would be my career salvation, only to find that it, too, would chew me up and spit me out into unemployment.  I have given it my all. In the end, my 10 year pursuit has come at a high opportunity cost: the chance to have had a decade of better pay, retirement benefits (paid by someone other than me out of my meager take home pay), and professional growth and advancement in a career path that offered continuity instead of the punctuated equilibrium that has been my ‘career.’ I’m taking this layoff as a sign: that it is time to move on.

To what? I don’t know. I fear that I have over-niched myself to such a degree that I wonder if I can identify, nevermind market, any transferable skills to move on to something else. All that I’ve learned from the past 10 years was that museum work wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I haven’t gotten any closer to figuring out what I do want to do. In the meantime, as I said in the first sentence, I *was* scheduled to be laid off last Friday, but it turned out that another department at the museum was working on a collections management project and could give me some hours, meaning I could delay the arrival of the inevitable final paycheck for a few weeks. Despite me wanting to tell them to go F themselves (and being completely and utterly out of give a sh*ts), I sensed that this was one of the first of the many, many sacrifices I would make as a new parent: my pride. So I dutifully reported to my new department and this awful, repetitive, tedious soul-sucking inventory project this morning. A project that will have me on my feet 40 hours a week, by the way, and climbing up and down ladders. Because everyone knows that pregnant women have boundless energy reserves in that first trimester. Though I’m trying to stay focused on being grateful that I’m still earning an income, all that I can think is that it’s time to close this museum chapter. This project is not just reinforcing that this museum work is exactly what I don’t want to be doing anymore, it’s also not getting me any closer to answering “Well, what, then?” It’s also taking up more than 40 hours each week and taxing the very little energy that I do have, keeping me from trying to nap figure out what I can do.

What was I Thinking?

Overnight I’ve gone from being the exhibit writer to, um, well, I don’t have a title anymore. Moved from my cubicle to, well, um, I don’t have a workspace anymore. I just show up at the museum collections storage room door, knock, and, once admitted, stand around until the tasks for the day are doled out and divvied up. Then we scurry off to unpack boxes, take empty boxes to recycling, hand off objects to and from the photographer, do data entry, and shelve the unpacked objects. I don’t know what I was thinking, but when I was told about this collections inventory project, I pictured a whole lot of data entry. And there is that. But, since I never worked in this museum’s registration department, my login doesn’t give me the ability to enter or modify data into the database. Made sense when I was in the exhibits department. Now? Not so much. But they won’t change it because I’m just temporary. So while I envisioned that I’d be maybe sitting around in a cubicle, doing a ton of data entry with this inventory project, instead I find myself being asked to help unpack giant boxes, haul objects up and down ladders, and vacuum using the world’s clunkiest vacuum cleaner. Even when we’re all standing around waiting for the next task, I’m standing around. All of it requires a lot of energy and it’s making it hard for the newly pregnant me to stay awake past 6:00 4:30 p.m.

Though I’m trying to stay focused on being grateful that I’m still earning a paycheck, all that I can think of is that I left museum collections management to go into exhibit development. And now I find myself having taken a step backward at just the moment when I’d made an agreement with myself to take a big leap forward out of museum work altogether. Not to mention that since I’m pregnant, this is exactly the wrong time to be moving into a role that literally requires heavy lifting from time to time. (I mean, I haven’t been asked to help move a piano or anything, but if and when that happens, I’ll have to figure out how to decline.) But that’s not even the biggest of my worries. It’s that I am on borrowed time. I am hurtling inexorably toward motherhood and, even sooner than that, unemployment. (For real this time.) By all measures, I need a (more permanent, long-term, benefits-eligible) job as soon as possible. The longer I wait, the more I’ll be showing, and while I see the baby bump as a deal-sealer for any potential employer: ‘I’m a sure-fire bet because I got another mouth to feed!’, apparently what potential employers see is: ‘NO chance she’s gonna stick around and work here after the baby’s born.’ I need to (1) find a job I’m even remotely eligible to apply for, (2) craft a cover letter that demonstrates that my years of experience in museums is directly applicable to cookie baking, dog catching, or what have you, and (3) land an interview, all before I start showing. And any one of those takes time. Precious time I’m running out of while I stand around in my new post hoping nobody asks me to help move a baby grand today.

So while this new gig is keeping unemployment at bay, it’s also coming at a cost of not getting me any closer to answering “Well, what’s next, then?” (Not to mention taxing the very little energy that I have.) Time spent on the clock is time not spent trying to nap figure out what I can do with my life. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

The End is Near. Or Is it?

As I said in my last post, I am scheduled to be laid off next Friday. But it turns out I need to revisit what I said there. As it turns out, I *was* scheduled to be laid off.

The head of the museum’s registration department came to me, and said that her department was working on a collections management inventory project and could give me some hours until the inventory was complete. Meaning I could delay the arrival of the inevitable final paycheck for a few weeks. Despite me being completely and utterly out of give a sh*ts about museum work – and museum collections management work specifically, not to mention working for this museum in particular – I need a paycheck. So while I said that yes, I would take her up on her offer, I also sensed that this was one of the first of the many, many sacrifices I would make as a new parent: my pride. My work in my position as exhibit writer is over, I will now (effective tomorrow) be reporting to work as a member of the museum’s registration department. A temporary employee, but an employee receiving a paycheck for a few more weeks. And that’s all that counts right now.